The Forgotten Rockabilly-er — The Basement

Tom Stewart
3 min readDec 14, 2021

Nobody’s a hero at home. In Europe, early rock and Rockabilly is very popular and has been, well, since it was new. Acts ignored over here get attention and crowds overseas where they’re not just one of many but unique, with an authenticity that the European acts don’t have (some of those German boys in their slicked-back hair and prison-bound Johnny Cash voices are pretty close though). When you’re a Rockabilly fan and you’ve worn out your Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, and Buddy Holly records, where do you go?

To flea markets, to collectors who can ferret out the lost gems, the overlooked and hardly played, the authentic but unloved. One of these lost artists was Cleveland kid Jay Cee Hill (or Jaycee Hill, or JC Hill, or even Hillman Barker which was his given name but not one he recorded under). He put out a series of Rockabilly records on Columbia (who didn’t know what to do with him really), and on MGM. All solid, rocking sides in the early Vincent/Elvis mold. None really did much beyond regional play. Jay Cee went into producing and songwriting, but after a divorce, gave it up and learned tool and die making. He pout the world of Rockabilly all behind him and moved on. He didn’t think anyone would remember him, yet collect his skimpy catalog.

What he didn’t know, was his short collection of 45’s had become prized collector’s items, especially in Europe where he was seen as one of the original cool cats of Rockabilly’s first wave. The problem was, no one could find him. He worked away in the tool and die shop, unaware his records were trading hands at high prices overseas. He didn’t find out until Bear Family Records (a German record company dedicated to putting out exhaustive collections of American artists, giving them the kind of respect lacking in releases from their own labels). Jay Cee seemed more amused than surprised at the interest in his nearly forgotten music career. Those eight or so double-sided singles are now available again to the hep cats to jive too, and at 87, Hill himself is retired and at last time we heard, doing fine. But amused.

Why am I writing about an obscure Rockabilly artist, besides the fact that seems just the sort of thing I would do? On my old school, classic iPod, I have thousands of songs, the majority of which I haven’t actually had the chance to listen to (who wants a library of books you’ve already read?). I’ve been going though, clicking on artists I didn’t know and looking up the One-Hit (or no hit) Wonders to see who they were and what happened to them. Today I found ‘Romp-Stomping Boogie’ and ‘Bump’. I had to know.

So I didn’t this deep dove into this ‘forgotten artist. I do this often, as I’m a person blessed/cursed with curiosity. I just want to know about people and their fates. I’m very glad to see Hill get some recognition for his work and music. There are so many stories out there that need investigating and boosting. JC Hill is just one.

Now we both know.

Originally published at http://www.tompstewart.com on December 14, 2021.

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Tom Stewart

Actor, writer, artist living in Seattle WA. I write plays, articles on comic book history or any other odd thing that crosses my mind. More to come!